The use of pellet guns in Kashmir Valley is in the news. The issue also came up in Parliament. Conflicting new coverage often makes it difficult to interpret the ground truth. The confusion is compounded when a former Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security (now a Rajya Sabha MP) tells a TV channel that Army is using pellets larger than those authorised in Jammu and Kashmir. One can only pity his knowledge for not knowing Army never uses pellet guns; Army uses real bullets and fires for effect when required.
Pellet guns were introduced into the Jammu and Kashmir Police in 2010 during the Omar Abdullah government. There must have been trials and approval by the state government before the Jammu and Kashmir Police got them. If anyone thinks non-lethal weapons have no effect on the body, they are misinformed. Try rubber bullets which have much greater impact. Play with paint guns available at numerous play ranges, even their impact on bare body parts is hard and numbing. Yes, pellets penetrate soft tissue of the skin, but police in the Valley certainly did not use them for the first time after the Burhan Wani killing. The PDP, when in opposition, had protested against the use of pellet guns but used them anyway after coming to power, obviously with good reason. A senior police officer recently told Reuters that security forces are forced to use pellet guns at close range to protect themselves against mob attacks. If some 280 mobsters have suffered pellet injuries in the Valley, more than 2,200 security personnel have suffered injuries on duty on account of stone pelting – many ending up getting stitches on their face.
In just two weeks, security personnel faced more than 600 attacks in the Valley; attacks on police stations, police posts, camps and bunkers. Approximately 70 arms were looted from a police station. If the police would have actually used pellet guns as freely as alleged then the injury ratio would have been in reverse. Imagine a mob of 500 to 1,000 attacking 20-30 security personnel – shouldn’t they fire their pellet guns? Or, should they instead fire live ammunition or alternatively surrender their arms to the mob and submit to being lynched? Why would Jammu and Kashmir Police needlessly fire pellets on Kashmiris?
There is talk that the pellets currently in use are larger. If that is true then it is the PDP government in the Valley which should be providing the answers – source of the cartridges; are the pellets really larger, and if so, on whose orders? On face value this may just be part of the sensationalising because the media has not reported on these issues by design or default – not even the source from where police obtains these pellet guns and cartridges. The number of occasions on which police have fired pellet guns this time has been more because the mobs attacking them were bigger and number of attacks were more. The frenzied mob were supported full hilt by Pakistan's psychological warfare, propaganda and radicalisation. The propaganda includes photo of a boy hit in the eyes by pellets in an incident in Gaza during 2015 – being bandied as a casualty in the Valley. Pakistan's intimate involvement in the current violence in Jammu and Kashmir has already been commented upon by the External Affairs Minister, Union Home Minister and the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Centre has appointed a committee to look for an alternative non-lethal weapon which is to submit recommendations in two months time. Details of variety of crowd control equipment are available on the net from various types of non-lethal weapons, gasses, sprays and the likes. Since 2008, Israelis have been using ‘Skunk’ for crowd control – spray from a water cannon, which leaves the odor of rotten sewages wherever it falls. A veteran suggests we use water cannon with indelible ink that would mark the terrorists and the mob supporting their attack.
Whatever alternatives we choose, it would be naïve to do away with pellet guns completely unless we want the police to fire live ammunition in desperation to save themselves.
Pakistan has succeeded, to some extent, in replacing the Sufi culture of Kashmir with Wahabism in Kashmir Valley. The country has succeeded in enlarging the insurgency and would like mob attacks to continue. While we dither over our police using pellet guns, Pakistan is one up with stone-pelters now also throwing acid bottles at security forces. We need not ditto how China, Pakistan and Sri Lanka deal with insurgents, but we should certainly draw lessons.
The author is veteran of the Special Forces of the Indian Army